Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (film)

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a 2020 American drama film directed by George C. Wolfe and written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, based on the play of the same name by August Wilson. Produced by Denzel Washington, Todd Black and Dany Wolf, the film centers on a fateful recording session of "Mother of the Blues" Ma Rainey in 1927 Chicago. It stars Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, with Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo and Michael Potts in supporting roles.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom film poster.jpg
Official release poster
Directed byGeorge C. Wolfe
Produced by
Screenplay byRuben Santiago-Hudson
Based onMa Rainey's Black Bottom
by August Wilson
Music byBranford Marsalis
CinematographyTobias A. Schliessler
Edited byAndrew Mondshein
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
  • November 25, 2020 (2020-11-25) (United States)
Running time
94 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$20–30 million[2]

The project was originally announced alongside Denzel Washington's Fences in 2013 as part of his 10-picture deal with HBO. The adaptation eventually moved to Netflix, with the cast joining in July 2019 and filming commencing that same month in Pittsburgh. Star Chadwick Boseman died from colon cancer during post-production in August 2020, making Black Bottom his final film appearance.

The film began a limited theatrical release on November 25, 2020, before beginning to stream on Netflix on December 18. It was acclaimed by critics, who lauded the performances of Davis and Boseman, as well as the costumes and production design.


Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians await trailblazing performer, the legendary "Mother of the Blues," Ma Rainey (Viola Davis). Late to the session, the fearless, fiery Ma engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music. As the band waits in the studio's claustrophobic rehearsal room, ambitious trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman) – who has an eye for Ma's girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry – spurs his fellow musicians into an eruption of stories, truths, and lies that will forever change the course of their lives.[3] Levee's ambition to start his own band also has him soliciting the managers and producers, requiring him to relive previous traumas.[4]



Denzel Washington initially had a deal with the television network HBO to produce nine of the playwright August Wilson's plays into films, with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom among them.[5] By June 2019, the deal had been moved to Netflix. Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, and Michael Potts had been cast in the film, with George C. Wolfe set to direct.[6] In July 2019, Taylour Paige, Jonny Coyne, Jeremy Shamos, and Dusan Brown joined the cast of the film.[7]

Filming commenced on July 8, 2019 in Pittsburgh, with sets converted into 1927 Chicago, and wrapped on August 16, 2019.[8]

On August 28, 2020, Boseman died of colon cancer during post-production, making Ma Rainey's Black Bottom his final film appearance.[3][9][10]


The film was theatrically released in select theaters on November 25, 2020,[3] before streaming December 18, 2020 on Netflix.[11]


Critical responseEdit

Chadwick Boseman received widespread praise for his final performance.

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 98% based on 60 reviews, with an average rating of 8.1/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Framed by a pair of powerhouse performances, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom pays affectionate tribute to a blues legend -- and Black culture at large."[12] According to Metacritic, which compiled 23 reviews and calculated a weighted average score of 87 out of 100, the film received "universal acclaim".[13]

Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang said "Boseman, evincing the same integrity he clung to his entire career, refuses to soft-pedal the destination. He imparts to this seething, shattered man the gift of a broken soul, riven by anger and trauma, and makes him all the more human for it. His final moments of screen time are among his darkest, and also his finest."[14] Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film a "B" grade and praised Boseman and Davis' performances, saying: "All of this would be more concerning if Ma Rainey's Black Bottom didn't turn on Wilson's crackling dialogue and a jazzy pace on par with the music. Above all, the movie amounts to a solid resurrection that doesn't muck up the bulk of what made the play click in the first place."[15]

Peter Travers, reviewing the film for ABC News, said, "Davis plays the real-life Ma Rainey, the Georgia singer dubbed the Mother of the Blues. Boseman invests body and soul into Levee, the hot-headed trumpeter who dares to lock horns with Ma in a shabby Chicago recording studio where they're paid to make music the way the white bosses want it. The time is 1927, but the bristling racial tensions feel as timely as ever."[16]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Gotham Awards January 11, 2021 Best Actor Chadwick Boseman Pending


  1. ^ "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom". Netflix. Retrieved October 31, 2020.
  2. ^ Moreau, Jordan (October 30, 2020). "'Mank' First Reactions: David Fincher Is a 'Technical Genius' With 'Exquisitely Crafted' Film". Variety. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Lee, Benjamin (18 October 2020). "Netflix releases trailer for Chadwick Boseman's final movie". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 October 2020.
  4. ^ "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom". Empire. 2020-11-20. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  5. ^ Washington, Arlene (September 17, 2015). "Denzel Washington to Direct August Wilson Play for HBO in Broad Deal". Hollywood Reporter.
  6. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (June 19, 2019). "Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman & More to Star in Denzel Washington Netflix Pic Adaptation Of August Wilson's 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'". Deadline Hollywood.
  7. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (July 2, 2019). "'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom': Taylour Paige, Jonny Coyne & More Join Denzel Washington-Produced August Wilson Adaptation". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  8. ^ Sciullo, Maria (July 1, 2019). "August Wilson's 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' prepping exteriors on Pittsburgh's North Side". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  9. ^ O'Neill, Shane (August 29, 2020). "This will be Chadwick Boseman's final movie". Looper. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
  10. ^ Robertson, Chris (October 1, 2020). "Chadwick Boseman pictured in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom - his last acting role before his death". Sky News. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  11. ^ Buchanan, Kyle (September 30, 2020). "First Look: Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'". The New York Times. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  12. ^ "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  13. ^ "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  14. ^ Chang, Justin (November 20, 2020). "'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' review: Chadwick Boseman's final and finest performance". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  15. ^ Kohn, Eric (November 20, 2020). "'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' Review: Boseman and Davis Energize a Faithful August Wilson Adaptation". IndieWire. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  16. ^ Travers, Peter (November 20, 2020). "'Ma Rainey' review: The film, starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, is 'a gut punch'". ABC News. Retrieved November 23, 2020.

External linksEdit